Tuesday, December 30, 2008

High Priority in 2009: Reauthorization of the Federal Transporation Bill and Its Impact on Owensboro

In 2009, the United States Congress will be due for passage of another 6-year bill authorizing federal transportation spending.  The federal transportation bill sets both funding targets and federal transportation policy.  Rather than a simple reauthorization of existing policy, the 2009 bill is expected to be a turning point for new policies and funding formulas, in recognition of the urgency of national needs-- everything from obesity prevention, escalating fuel prices, the need for energy independence from Middle East oil, the battle against global climate change, to the aging infrastructure of America's roadways and bridges.

This could be the most significant reauthorization since the President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the National Interstate and Defense Highway Act in 1956.    This act created much of the world we live in today-- including many of the urgent needs that will impact the new transportation bill.  

In creating the 41,000 miles of Interstate highways, the act opened the door for 
sprawling cities and suburban development and also the expanded carbon footprint.  It led to the growth of increasing affordable single family dwellings and shopping malls ever farther from city centers, which in turn created an even greater dependence on automobiles.  It ultimately led to the creation of a powerful industrial and employment base in the American automobile industry, and a dependence on foreign oil.

The reathorization of the transportation bill could usher in a new paradigm for transportation policy in the future in some of the following ways:
  • Will the new legislation continue to promote an aggressive agenda for building new roads or will environmental issues and energy independence lead to a shift toward rail and mass transit connecting larger urban areas and airports?
  • Will the new legislation allow states and metro areas more freedom in funding and prioritizing projects?
  • The fuels tax that has funded the program since its inception can no longer serve as the sole source of revenue as people drive more fuel-efficient vehicles, how will the new legislation propose to fund transportation needs?
Owensboro missed the opportunity to be a part of the interstate network that was created in 1956.  With the construction of Interstate 69, Owensboro will, after half a century, be a part of the this network.  The reathorization will be critical in completing this task.   Perhaps more critically, it is important not be on the wrong side of the pendulum as it swings toward a new paradigm as we are trying to play catch up with inclusion in the interstate highway network.   If the pendulum swings toward mass transit and rail, we cannot afford to spend the next 50 years becoming a part of that system.  We must present a compelling case for Owensboro being a part of an enhanced mass transit and rail network. 

For example, this region has spent a lot of energy fighting for commercial air service to connect Owensboro to metro areas like Cincinnati, St. Louis, Nashville, or Louisville.  Maybe high speed rail is the answer.  Japan, China, and Europe have shown how effective this form of transportation is for travelers and commuters alike.  It is a more environmentally-friendly model that lessens dependence on foreign oil.  It could even use the low cost electricity generated in the region.  A high speed rail link to just one major metro area could totally transform the region-- it would even be possible for professionals to work in that metro while enjoying the quality of life we love in Owensboro.

The reathorization of the next transportation bill is critical in completing the task of putting Greater Owensboro in the 20th century transportation network, but it is equally critical not to overlook the opportunities that lie ahead in making Owensboro a part of the 21st century transportation network that has yet to be constructed.  

Monday, December 22, 2008

Visit to Greenville, S.C.

In a recent visit to Greenville, South Carolina Mayor-Elect Ron Payne, Judge-Executive Reid Haire and members of the economic development and downtown boards saw the power of public-private partnerships in creating a downtown.

Just 20 years ago, downtown Greenville was in far worse shape that downtown Owensboro.  It was full of blight and infested with drugs and crime in the 1980s.  The city agressively redeveloped the downtown through a series of partnerships in which the city served as a "master developer" in aquiring property, financing catalytic projects, which attracted private

The catalyst for growth in the downtown, like Owensboro, was development along the riverfront, through public investments made in the arts, and by developing retail along the city's traditional "main street."

For more information and pictures, go to the Be A Part of the New Downtown Facebook site.    

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Downtown Owensboro Arts Academy

One of the lesser known elements of the new Downtown Master Plan is the creation of an arts academy in downtown Owensboro. The Gateway Planning team recommends exploring options that would capitalize on the arts and education character of the community focusing on downtown.

With this in mind, the EDC is currently facilitating discussion between the region’s four colleges, universities, and local school systems to create an academy that would offer students an opportunity to study the arts in conjunction with performance and production components at the River Park Center.

The format of the academy will allow to students can begin the program in the junior year of high school and complete the program with a bachelor’s degree from one of the local colleges or universities. The academy hopes to attract students from outside the region to attend as residential students in high school. The program can be an effective tool for the attraction and retention of young talent to the region.

The arts are now one of the nation’s leading export industries. Nationally, there are more than a half million businesses that employ 2.7 million in the U.S. in “creative” industries. These creative industries are a growing part of the economy in Greater Owensboro. The number of creative industry jobs in the region jumped from 375 in 2004 to 446 in 2006, an increase of 18.9 percent. The largest increase in Owensboro came in the performing arts and music.

Unusual among cities of its size, Owensboro boasts a thriving arts life. The River Park Center, whose two auditoriums hosted more than 150 performances and 900 civic events last year, presents a wide variety of entertainment, including productions designed especially for students. The River Park Center is also known as "Broadway West" in the national theater community. Each year the River Park hosts theater companies while they build touring shows like 42nd Street. Some local talent is used in set building, costumes and technical areas before the production launches a world tour beginning with an Owensboro premiere in Cannon Hall.